| Our Island Story|
|by H. E. Marshall|
|A child's history of England from earliest legendary times delightfully retold. Beginning with the stories of Albion and Brutus, it relates all the interesting legends and hero tales in which the history of England abounds through the end of the reign of Queen Victoria. Ages 9-12 |
THE BATTLE OF HASTINGS
 WHILE these things were happening in York, the great duke
had finished his preparations. He had gathered together his
huge army and his mighty fleet of ships. The wind blew fair
from the coast of France, and he set sail for England.
Over the blue sea they came, the white-sailed vessels
crowded with knights in armour, champing war-horses, bowmen,
and spearmen. Such an army had seldom before been seen. Duke
William's vessel was the gayest and proudest of them all.
The sails were crimson, the deck and masts were gaily
painted. A golden boy was on the prow, leaning forward as if
to catch the first glimpse of England. By day the proud
banner, embroidered with the three golden lions of Normandy,
fluttered in the breeze. By night a crescent of light shone
from the masthead, so that all could see their lord's ship
and follow where he led. On they came, day and night till,
with a shout, they greeted the shores of England.
No army was awaiting them. King Harold who had, for so many
months, watched anxiously for their coming, was far away
fighting another foe. And when at last the white sails
glimmered in the distance, only the frightened fisherfolk
stood upon the shore watching, and the peasants fled in
fear to hide.
 On came the duke's fleet, till the vessels touched the
shore. Duke William was the first to spring to land, but as he
did so he stumbled and fell.
"Alas! what bad luck," cried the soldiers around him; but
William sprang up with a laugh, and turning to them showed
his hands full of earth.
"See," he cried, "I have already taken hold of my kingdom."
Then a soldier, who had sprung ashore after the duke, ran to
a cottage, and tearing from it some thatch, said, "Take hold
not only of England, but of what England holds."
"I accept it," said the duke. "May God be with us."
Soon the whole army landed. The duke then caused all the
ships to be sunk or pulled far up the shore, so that they
could not be put out to sea again. "For," said he, "we will
either conquer or die. We will never return to Normandy
Now, after the battle of Stamford Bridge, while Harold and
his men were resting in York before going southward again,
the clatter of horses' hoofs was heard at the castle gate,
and in a few minutes a breathless messenger flung himself at
the king's feet.
"My lord," he cried, "my lord, William of Normandy has
landed in England. I myself have seen him. He has come with
a great and fierce host, and is laying waste all the land. I
have not rested night nor day, but have hasted with the
This was very terrible news. Harold's men were wounded and
weary with fighting, but before an hour had passed he and
they were again on the great Roman road marching southward.
As he went, King Harold sent messages into all the country,
calling the soldiers together. From every
 side they came to
him, for they loved their king and country.
Harold had done a very wonderful thing when he marched his
men north in so short a time. Now he did an even more
wonderful thing when he brought them back again, for it is
said that he arrived in London on 6th October, and they had
to ride and walk all the way from York, which they only left
on 27th September.
Here in London they rested a few days until more soldiers
were gathered together. And here Gurth, his brother, tried
to make Harold remain behind and let him go forward with the
army to meet William. "It will not matter so much if I am
killed," he said, "and besides, I have made no promises to
William, so I can fight him better. Then you must burn all
the houses, cut down the trees, and lay waste the cornfields
between here and the seacoast, so that if I cannot keep
William back, he will find no food nor shelter for his army
when he arrives."
But Harold looked proudly at his brother. "I am the King," he
said. "I will never harm an English village nor an
English house. I will never harm the goods nor lands of any
Englishman. How can I hurt the people who are given me to
So once more the King set out at the head of his army and on
12th October they arrived in sight of the Normans, who had
camped near Hastings, on the south coast.
Harold camped on the hill called Senlac, and there it was
that the battle took place. And from the names of the two
camps, the battle is sometimes called Hastings, sometimes
The English army was not nearly so large as the
 Norman, but
Harold chose a very good place on the top of a hill. He also
built a strong fence all round his camp.
When the battle began, the first person who advanced from
the Norman side was not a soldier, but a minstrel or singer
He rode out from the ranks, gaily dressed. He was tall and
handsome, and had a laughing, merry face. On he came, riding
not as if in battle, but as if in play.
His horse capered and pranced while he whirled his sword,
throwing it high into the air, and catching it again and
And as he so rode and played, he sang. The song he sang was
an old song of France, telling of the wonderful deeds of the
great hero, Roland. It stirred the hearts of the Frenchmen,
making them eager to fight and conquer. So, led by their
minstrel, the whole army took up the song, and as they
marched, the air was full of the music of men's voices.
" 'O Roland, sound your ivory horn,
To the ear of Karl shall the blast be borne.
He will bid his legions backward bend,
And all his barons their aid will lend.'
'Now God forbid it, for very shame,
That for me my kindred were stained with blame,
Or that gentle France to such vileness fell.
This good sword that hath served me well
My Durindana such strokes shall deal
That with blood encrimsoned shall be the steel.
By their evil star are the felons led;
They shall all be numbered among the dead.' "
Taillefer whirled his sword, struck a mighty blow, and the
first Englishman fell dead.
" 'I will not sound on mine ivory horn;
It shall never be spoken of me in scorn,
That for heathen felons one blast I blew.
I may not dishonour my lineage true,
But I will strike ere this fight be o'er
A thousand strokes and seven hundred more.
And my Durindana shall drip with gore.
Our Franks will bear them like vassals brave,
The Saracens flock but to find a grave.' "
Again the sword of Taillefer flashed in the sunlight, and
again an Englishmen lay dead. It seemed as if he rode alone
to defy the whole English army, but behind him marched a
mighty host singing:—
It seemed as if he rode alone to defy the whole English army.
"God and His angels of heaven defend,
That France through me from her glory bend,
Death were better than fame laid low,
Our emperor loveth a downright blow."
Then the singer's voice was dumb, for an English sword
flashed, and the bright blade was buried in his heart. But
over his dead body swept the host still singing:—
"Then from the Franks resounded high—
'Mountjoie!' Whoever had heard that cry
Would hold remembrance of chivalry.
Then ride they—how proudly, O God, they ride!
With rowels dashed in their coursers' side.
Fearless too are their paynim foes,
Franks and Saracens thus they close."
So the fight began, and all through the long day it raged.
Sometimes it seemed as if one side would win, sometimes as
if the other.
Once a cry went through the Norman ranks that Duke William
was killed. Hearing that they would have fled, but Duke
William rode among them
bare-  headed, calling to them and
cheering them on. And when the Normans saw their great
duke's face, they took heart and turned once more to the
As the day drew to an end it was seen, alas, that the
English were beaten. They gathered close around their king
and his standard, fighting fiercely and bravely to the last.
And when Harold fell, pierced with an arrow, his brave
knights fought still over his dead body. But when night
came, all the bravest and the best men of England lay with
their king, dead upon the field.
The splendid standard of Harold was torn, bloodstained, and
trampled in the dust, and the three lions of Normandy,
fluttering in the cold autumn wind, kept watch over the
"William came o'er the sea,
With bloody sword came he,
Cold heart and bloody hand
Now rule the English land."
King Harold was buried on the seashore, not far from where
he fell. Even William, fierce and cruel though he was, must
have felt some pity for the man who had fought so bravely
for his country. "Let him lie by the seashore," he said. "He
guarded it well while he lived. Let him still guard it in
So, wrapped in a purple robe, as befits a king, they buried
him by the sounding sea, beneath the great arch of heaven.
Over his grave William caused a stone to be placed. Upon it
in Latin were engraved the words:—"Here lies Harold the
But after many years the body was removed to Waltham Abbey,
which Harold himself had founded. On the spot where Harold
fell, William of Normandy, perhaps in sorrow and remorse,
built another great abbey,
 which he called Battle Abbey, and
the remains of both may be seen to this day.
So died Harold, the last of the English kings. He had
reigned only nine months, and died, fighting for the freedom
of his people and his country, on Saturday, October 15,
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